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PC Magazine Windows XP Solutions
By Neil Randall
John Wiley & SonsISBN: 0-471-74752-1
Chapter OneWindows XP Service Pack 2
Why place this chapter first? Quite simply, if you're running Windows XP, you should also be running Service Pack 2 (SP2). The purpose of SP2 is to render Windows XP more secure, less vulnerable to attacks from the Internet, and more easily integrated with existing third-party security software. SP2 was introduced to the world just after the first edition of this book was completed, and for that reason it represents the single most important change to XP in the intervening months. Even if you never bothered to install Service Pack 1-for whatever reasons-you owe it to yourself to get SP2 on your system as quickly as possible.
This chapter covers the features of SP2, along with details about downloading (or ordering it on CD) and installing it. Consider this the first step in making your Windows XP machine and the data it stores safer and more stable, a process continued in the chapters that follow.
Getting and Installing Service Pack 2
By far, the easiest way to acquire Service Pack 2 is to through Windows Update. As covered in Chapter 5 (for all Windows Update functions, not just the service packs), you can use Internet Explorer to head for the Windows Update site, or you can set Windows to update itself automatically. If you choose the latter method, depending on your settings Windows will do one of the following:
* Inform you that Service Pack 2 is available and let you download and install it
* Inform you that it has downloaded Service Pack 2 and let you install it
* Download and install it without your intervention
In the first two instances, you must use the resulting dialog boxes to tell Windows to put the service pack in place. See the section "The Installation Itself" a little later for details. There are two other ways to acquire SP2:
* Order the free CD: From the Microsoft site, navigate to the Windows XP area, follow the link to Service Pack 2, and look for the link to order it on CD. As of this writing, the URL is microsoft.com/windowsxp/downloads; of course, this URL can change at any time. The CD is free to all (not just those in the United States), so this is worth having whether or not you plan on installing Service Pack 2 that way.
* Download the SP2 File: Numerous download sites have SP2 available as a single, large file. One example is download.com, where you'll find it as a 266MB download.
There's a particularly strong reason to install a service pack from CD rather than from Windows Update. If Your computer is already compromised-that is, it has already contracted viruses, spyware, and so on-any Subsequent download can be affected, including items from Windows Update. For this reason, if you want to use the protection features of SP2, you're much better off ordering the CD and installing from it, simply because the CD won't be compromised. That said, for a completely clean PC, the best idea of all is to reinstall Windows XP from scratch and apply SP2 from the CD after doing so. For instructions on reinstalling Windows XP, see Appendix B. And hey, there is lots in this book to keep you busy while you wait for the CD to arrive.
Before the Installation
Most software you install on your system takes little if any preplanning. Download the file or insert the CD, step through the installation process, and away you go. Usually, you don't even have to shut down any programs before starting, although it's never a bad idea to do so (and a warning box almost always tells you to do so).
Any time you modify your operating system (OS), however, you should always do so with as clean a system running as possible-and with everything you need backed up, just in case disaster strikes. It's not absolutely necessary (many SP2 installations have been done without this planning), but it's recommended anyway.
Following is a list of suggestions for ensuring the greatest possible likelihood that SP2 will install without problems.
1. Give yourself some time to do the installation properly: Plan on spending an evening doing the installation, ideally longer. It might take less. While the actual installation is in promress, don't plan to do anything on the PC.
2. Perform a backup of the files you can't live without: This includes programs whose installation CDs you no longer possess, and those whose CD or registration keys you couldn't find if your life depended on it. See Chapters 4 and 26 for more on data backup.
3. Perform a full virus check on your system: Be sure to set your antivirus software to lude all files, including system files and program files. Include all your hard drives. depending on how much data you have stored on your drives, this process could take several hours. See Chapter 2 for sites to visit to conduct online antivirus checks.
4. Perform a full spyware check on your system: Delete all spyware files and programs located. If you know you have programs that include spyware, delete them from your system thoroughly. See Chapter 3 for sites to visit that offer free online spyware scans.
5. Get rid of as many programs you can from the Startup folder, and prevent as many programs as possible from automatically loading when Windows starts: These programs won't likely do any harm to the installation, but your SP2-enhanced Windows will start more quickly without them; besides, you've been wanting to get rid of those time-wasters for a while anyway, right?
6. Ensure that you have adequate space: Check that you have at least 2GB of space available on your primary Windows XP hard drive.
7. If you are installing to a notebook PC, plug in the power cord: Do not run it on battery power. If the batteries fail during installation, you can cause significant damage to Windows itself (although SP2 is good at recovery).
8. Using the disk utility of your choice (Microsoft's CHKDSK is fine), check your hard drives for errors: Let the utility correct the errors, and proceed from there. See Chapter 22 for more on working with hard drives.
9. Go to Windows Update, before installing SP2, to get your PC up to date with the latest files: This is particularly true of noncritical updates. However, if Windows Update lists SP2 as an available download, this means that its scan of your PC has indicated that you may install it without difficulty. Before doing so, however, go to step 10.
10. Download and install the latest device drivers for as many hardware devices as you need: You can get these from the support areas of the manufacturers' Web sites. Examples include drivers for hard drives (particularly SATA drives and RAID systems), video cards, sound cards, external drives, printers, and more. Again, these aren't actually necessary, but doing this will ensure that SP2 installs on top of a fully up-to-date system.
11. If your PC has more than one account, log off all users from your PC, and log in as an administrator: Better yet, reboot the PC to clear out all users and log in as an Administrator. If you do not have an Administrator account, let someone with such an account perform the SP2 installation. If your PC has one account only, it's almost certainly an Administrator account anyway. However, see Chapter 24 for more on establishing and determining user accounts.
The Installation Itself
Ideally, your SP2 installation will require no thought, no intervention, and no actual work. Start it up and away it goes, with your next act being simply to log in as a user and go back to whatever you were doing before the installation. In fact, in most installations, this is precisely what happens. Here is the process.
1. Start the installation by doing one of these things:
a. Downloading from Windows Update b. Inserting your SP2 CD c. Double-clicking your downloaded SP2 installation file
2. Confirm that you want to update the system. If you're not sure, if there's something you want to update in Windows before you do so, or if you just don't want to take the time right now, this is a good place to cancel the process.
3. If you are installing from Windows Update, Windows XP now downloads the files necessary to perform the installation. You may continue working during this process; Windows lets you know when the download is complete and installation is ready to commence. If you are installing from the CD or the full downloaded file, you don't get this respite-installation begins immediately.
4. Once in progress, the installation of SP2 acts much like installation of any other software-except that it takes longer. In fact, it can take as long as an hour (although it usually takes less).
What SP2 Brings to the Table
When Microsoft says that something is necessary, you're probably tempted to just download it, install it, and be done with it. Usually, it turns out to be a good idea; no matter what the nay-sayers might suggest, Microsoft does actually want its products to run properly and not be the subject of continuing claims about lack of security, stability, or sense. In the case of service packs for Microsoft's operating systems, however, installation is always a good idea. In every case, these service packs offer improvements to the OS itself. These improvements range from bug fixes, to new versions of programs, to fundamental changes in security.
That said, you will also always hear horror stories. No matter how many people successfully install a service pack, you will hear only from the people who, for whatever reason, had a bad time of it. And there's no question that some PCs accept Windows service packs much less readily than others do. The problem is that it's hard to figure out why. Possibly it's an incompatible piece of hardware; possibly it's an old driver or two that simply refuse to get along. Possibly the PC is already loaded with viruses or other malicious software and simply doesn't install anything without incident. And possibly, it's simply a combination of hardware and software elements that just don't work together with the upgrades that the service pack installs.
There is, however, one thing that can safely be said for any Windows service pack installation: If the version of Windows XP already installed on your system doesn't work well, installing a service pack probably won't help. In fact, it might make it worse. Don't install a service pack expecting it to heal your PC, the way installing an antivirus program or a disk repair utility can help. Those programs are designed to take an ailing system and make it healthier. Windows service packs are designed to make the operating system more effective. But service packs are not healers.
Still, there are numerous reasons to install any Windows service pack, but especially Windows XP Service Pack 2. The following sections explain some of the major reasons. The assumption here is that you do not already have Service Pack 1 on your system. For those who do, the text includes notes about what is different in Service Pack 2.
You do not have to install Service Pack 1 before installing Service Pack 2. SP2 contains all the features and fixes of SP1, adding many of its own.
Analysts and critics of Windows XP have continually focused on security issues. As with previous versions of Windows-especially since the popularization of the Internet-XP has been susceptible to hackers, crackers, intruders, and thieves, and this susceptibility has made IT-savvy businesses and users wary of running Windows (including the XP version) on their main production PCs. Service Pack was designed from the outset primarily as an improvement on XP's security, and to that end, it incorporates numerous important security features.
Primary among these security features is the Windows Firewall. To be sure, SP2 doesn't actually represent the first appearance of the Firewall; it appeared, in fact, with the original Windows XP. However, SP2 improves the capabilities of the Firewall along with its default performance. Later in this chapter you look at how to configure the firewall; for now, it's important to note that the firewall is turned on by default in SP2, and that-more important-it has been added to the startup and shutdown processes of Window XP to minimize intrusions from the Internet in the time between the loading of the networking subsystem and the appearance of the desktop. Previously, that time offered a window of opportunity for hackers to break into system and establish control of the network.
The most visible sign of the concern for added security is the Windows Security Center, covered (like the Firewall) in its own section later in this chapter. The purpose of the Security Center is to provide a central interface from which you can see at a glance whether or not Automatic Updates, the Firewall, your browser settings, and your antivirus software are in place, and from which you can configure the features of these security tools. The Security Center loads automatically when you install SP2, encouraging you to take advantage of its controls in order to secure your PC against all possible threats (or at least the ones that it can manage).
Improved Web and Email Functions
For many of us, most of the day is spent on the Web or in email. As a result, email and the Web are the two primary targets for outside intruders. Not all intrusions are malicious, but at the very least, all are inconvenient and are often flat-out annoying. SP2 helps you recover some of the time and energy you've been wasting until now dealing with these annoyances by providing additional features in Windows' two major built-in Internet programs: Internet Explorer (IE) and Outlook Express (OE). Here is a list of the most significant features added to these two programs:
* Protection from downloads (IE): One of the classic methods of compromising your PC is for Web pages to initiate procedures to store files on your hard drive. SP2 provides Internet Explorer with an Information Bar, which appears immediately below the Address Bar and informs you each time IE recognizes a potentially harmful download. These downloads typically come from ActiveX controls, but they can include other recognized problem files as well, such as .exe files (program executables). Whenever the Information Bar appears, you can hover the mouse pointer over it to discover what is being called to your attention and to take action. Two menu items appear: Download File and What's the Risk? Choose the first to override the Information Bar and download the file in question; choose the second to go to the Microsoft site where an explanation page explains what the danger is. In the case of a download, IE causes a Security Warning window to appear, letting you Run or Save the file; in the case of ActiveX controls, it lets you configure IE to accept or reject all such files from specific sources or to ask you every time one appears.
* Protection from downloads (OE): Microsoft email products (the full Outlook program in particular) have suffered terribly from their susceptibility to viruses and other malicious code sent as attachments and as images within messages. With SP2, Outlook Express is far more watchful for such code, blocking suspicious attachments and, by default, not displaying graphics in a message opened in a separate window or in the Preview pane. As with IE's Information Bar, you can view the messages by clicking the block notification and instructing OE to download them, but some attachments are simply blocked from download completely. If that happens, and you know the code is valid, you can reply to the sender to have that person reattach and resend them. If you're not certain, be glad that the attachment has been blocked.
* Control of IE add-ons: Numerous programs add capabilities to IE to allow you to work with files germane to those programs from within your browser. Typical examples include virus checkers, download utilities, and the unending stream of toolbars available from Google, Yahoo!, MSN, and practically everywhere else. SP2 adds a Manage Add-ons window to IE, accessible via IE's Tools menu. Figure 1-1 shows this utility, in whose viewing pane is displayed all the add-ons currently loaded in IE. Another view, available by clicking the drop-down menu in the Show field, allows you to see what add-ons IE has used, not just those currently loaded. You can click the name of each add-on and choose to Enable or Disable it. If it is an ActiveX object, you can click the Update ActiveX button to have IE go to the manufacturer's site and download the latest version. The most important element here is the capability to disable add-ons because they often result in the worst slowdowns you'll experience when using IE.
Excerpted from PC Magazine Windows XP Solutions by Neil Randall Excerpted by permission.
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